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Manatee hearing canceled

Last month, when President Bush put many federal regulators on a 90-day leash in a bid to spur the economy, some people wondered when the changes would trickle down to the local level.

For Citrus County, it didn't take long at all.

A public workshop on new manatee sanctuaries in Kings Bay that had been scheduled for Feb. 24 at the Coastal Region Library has been canceled because Bush's action has kept the required public notice from being issued.

Kings Bay has three permanent manatee sanctuaries, where fishing, boating, swimming and diving are prohibited. The new havens, which the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service set up on an emergency basis at the start of the current manatee wintering season, will stay in effect as well, officials say. But the delay in the workshops could affect Kings Bay boaters and divers next year.

The public hearing would be one step in making the sanctuaries permanent.

"This doesn't affect the sanctuaries for this year, but it's going to depend on what happens to see about what happens to them next year," said Cameron Shaw, manager of the Chassahowitzka National Wildlife Refuge.

During his State of the Union speech, the president said he wanted a 90-day moratorium on any new federal regulations that could slow economic growth.

That translated into a 90-day freeze on all notices about new regulations to be published by the federal Office of Management and Budget in Washington.

The federal government requires that proposed regulations be published before a public hearing, Shaw explained.

"We could go ahead and hold the hearing, but we'd have to hold another one after the proposed rule was published," he said. "So unless I get word otherwise, it appears that the workshop has to be canceled."

The four new sanctuaries have been in effect since Nov. 15, protecting the wintering manatee herd in Kings Bay from boaters, swimmers and divers.

Federal officials created the new havens after determining that the growing manatee herd needed more protection from the increasing number of boaters.

In order to have the new sanctuaries in place immediately, the Fish and Wildlife Service established them as emergency sanctuaries _ a move that bypassed much of the complex federal paperwork.

Despite the current delay in the process, Shaw said he doesn't expect any action from Washington that would keep the wildlife Service from reinstituting the new sanctuaries next year, either permanently or on an emergency basis.